The Iceberg

“These days you look at the surface Web, all that yakking, all the goods for sale, the spammers and spielers and idle fingers, all in the same desperate scramble they like to call an economy. Meantime, down here, sooner or later someplace deep, there has to be a horizon between coded and codeless. An abyss.”

Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge, 2013

The World Wide Web is the familiar face of the Internet, that virtual place where we all go each day, looking for information, interactions, commitments, business, answers, gratification and entertainment. The navigable space shared among the various browsers today totals almost 4.5 billion pages [1], yet the space that we can actually freely explore is limited to a surface characterized by the fact that the documents and all other resources made available to us there are identified by a set alphanumeric sequence, i.e., an address that defines its electronic location.
This zone that has emerged is part of a larger whole that one might compare to the tip of an iceberg. Beneath lies something ten times bigger, the Deep Web, the part of the network that has not yet been indexed by search engines: new sites under construction, private company archives, web pages with dynamic content, and so on. If we descend to even greater depths, we reach the Dark Web, a place accessible only via highly specialized softwares that connect anonymously to dedicated networks known as the Darknet. Once we enter the furthest and paradoxically vastest space of the Web, we theoretically become invisible. This is where many illicit activities are carried out, far from the light of day: industrial espionage, political conspiracy, drug trafficking and illegal weapons sales. Thousands of images can be found here and nowhere else in our apparently hyper-illustrated, watched and connected world.
This tortuous, downward spiral (the Deep Web has also been compared to Dante’s Inferno) is the path that Giorgio Di Noto takes viewers along in The Iceberg, a project that appropriates and reworks photographs downloaded from drug trafficking sites on the Dark Web. The Iceberg opens a window onto a darker, or perhaps invisible space of online imagery.

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The first input comes from the title itself: the most commonly used metaphor to describe the structure of the Deep Web. Interestingly, in an ever more virtual society where images have been almost completely stripped of their material quotient, our knowledge of the world is increasingly filtered through the formulation of figures of speech endowed with a strong sense of physicality. Humans have always resorted to analogies and comparisons to understand their reality better, but digital culture has spread this process of transferring meaning to an unprecedented extent. Metaphors tied to our natural, anthropological and social environments are used to facilitate our interpretation of the intangible phenomena of the technological and digital revolutions everywhere. Consider the bodily, almost primitive suggestion in the expression “global village” coined by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan in 1964, or the original meaning of the word “Facebook” and the implications of the object it derives its structure from (namely, a yearly photo address book distributed at many boarding schools in the US, a big part of the students’ social experience and culture).
This is where Di Noto begins his study of the representation of imagery and the translation of its characteristics as a phenomenon, even before considering the images themselves – an interest that has guided his previous projects as well. The game of smoke and mirrors that shrouds the Dark Web’s complex texture has been transferred to the exhibition, both in terms of the individual prints and the installation as a whole. The project is interactive and labyrinthine: a reflection of the unstable, laborious, disparate nature of the Deep Web and the images it holds.
In this way, we can look at The Iceberg as a kind of tangible Doppelgänger of an intangible, encrypted netherworld. We walk amidst images of illicit substances sold in this submerged e-commerce space, appearing to us one by one in the dark, lit by the same UV light that drug enforcement agencies use to hunt for traces of certain narcotics in their investigations. And we are constantly denied a view of the whole, especially in moments of direct illumination, where the invisible images disappear and we only see black-and-white photographs: these are pictures that can be found both above and below the web’s surface, representing the point of intersection of these two worlds.
As we explore The Iceberg, the term archontic, used by Jacques Derrida in Archive Fever to define continuously expanding archives that never fully close, comes to mind. In our screen-addicted universe, where each individual element appears to be numbered, we instead face a reality of free-floating indeterminacy that defies any sort of definitive calculation. Literature has already grappled with this phenomenon extensively, and now art, especially photography, has begun to translate it into new aesthetic, narrative forms.

[1] Data updated as of March 10, 2017. Source: